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The dos and don’ts of embedding research in schools

SSAT National Conference workshop presenter Claire Bishop, assistant principal and director of research at Sir Christopher Hatton Academy writes.

The current educational climate is calling for more research in schools. The government has appointed research schools across the country, the Chartered College of Teaching has promised to make research-informed practice part of the future of teaching and recently schools minister Nick Gibb has criticised any academics who refuse to work with the teaching profession.

So how can we ensure that our schools are research centred? Although we are all still learning what this may look like and are evaluating the impact of our actions, here are my dos and don’ts of establishing a research culture in your school.

Do understand the difference between evidence-informed practice and action research

A teacher who is up to date with current educational research, implementing strategies that have been effective elsewhere and internally evaluating their impact on his/her classroom is an evidence-informed practitioner. A teacher who engages with action research undertakes more formal, usually written, pieces of research. While all teachers should be research informed, forcing teachers to undertake action research can have a negative impact. We don’t want to make undertaking action research a chore – but we should engage all staff in being research informed and provide CPD options to enable staff to engage with research.

Do give time and space for people to reflect on their own practice

At our academy, we are lucky in that we have an hour a week in which staff have the time to either conduct mentoring with students or engage with action research. Whatever your circumstances, time to reflect and discuss the impact research can have on a classroom is essential. If possible, do it away from classrooms. Physically moving to a different location can help create a clearer headspace and stop teachers thinking about their long to-do list rather than reflecting!

Do create a baseline for where you started

Measuring the impact of research in schools can boost staff morale and pupil outcomes. A quick survey sent out to staff can help give you a clear action plan. Asking teachers what areas they feel the school should improve can create a sense of shared ownership of any subsequent new policies or events. Regular updates on what is going on around school means that staff receive credit for their research, and team members can hear about the great things going on around the school.

Don’t assume that everyone is as excited about engaging with research as you are

When starting my research role in January 2017, I was surprised that some members of staff were resistant to the idea of using research in their practice. The list of reasons why teachers don’t want to engage in research can include concerns about time management and workload, insecurities about how to access journals, their own research literacy and rustiness when it comes to engaging in research. All of these are understandable, but can be countered. Staff can be supported by journal clubs, academic research CPD and creating guides on where to find quick and easy research summaries for busy teachers. Creating guidance on how engaging with research can support them in their work can work well alongside appraisal of performance management. Although it isn’t about the money, demonstrating that you have investigated issues within the school improvement plan can only help in any subsequent bid for pay progression.

Don’t deliver a one-size-fits-all approach

You wouldn’t do it in a lesson, so don’t do it in the training room either. Giving a standardised programme for action research will leave teachers bored and unchallenged, or overwhelmed and disengaged. Be brave: don’t plan a year in advance with any kind of research programmes or initiatives. Instead, be reactive to the needs of your staff so you and they can create valuable research experiences.


See Claire Bishop talk about creating a research focused community to improve teaching and learning on Friday morning at the SSAT National Conference, book your place.

Discover a supportive way to approach action research with the SSAT Lead Practitioner Accreditation.

Read more on the SSAT blog: How can teachers become more evidence-informed?


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One thought on “The dos and don’ts of embedding research in schools

  1. It’s really important to recognise that good teachers action research ‘anyway’ as they teach. They will read up on research in an area of need or interest. They need support to identify and pursue these with training within a supportive collaborative system.

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